Three Things to Consider Before Buying a Personal Flotation Device

Wearing a life jacket can make the difference between life and death when you’re on the water.

dozens of PFD styles and designs
There are dozens of PFD styles and designs so take your time and shop for one that’s comfortable on you.Miguel A. Amutio

Personal Flotation Devices, or PFDs, are required on most boats, but they’re a smart idea even when you’re simply hanging out on lakeshores and waterfronts. Modern designs are sleek and comfortable, come in an array of colors and graphics, and provide a measure of safety that will allow you to enjoy a day on the water with security. But some designs are more comfortable than others, so choose wisely. And when you’re ready to float, here are three things to think about when choosing a PFD.

O'Neill Men's Superlite USCG Life Vest
With four front panel buckles, this sporty PFD is perfect for high-energy activities.O'Neill

The U.S. Coast Guard certifies PFDs for both adults and children and categorizes them into five different types. You’ll want either a Type II or Type III PFD. Type II live vests are inexpensive but are bulky to wear and store. They’re typically bought in bulk and used as backup or emergency PFDs. Type III PFDs are more tailored and far more comfortable to wear.

Stohlquist Fit Adult PFD 4 Pack Coast Guard Approved Universal, Red
A thinner back panel makes for more comfortable seating in a boat or on the dock.Stohlquist

When you’re going to be wearing a PFD for hours at a time, comfort is key, and being able to customize fit is a huge plus for a quality life vest. Look for multiple straps across the front of the PFD to take into account the various dimensions of the lower, middle, and upper torso. Side straps that help cinch the PFD down tightly without compressing the chest are a big bonus.

Seachoice Life Vest, Type II Personal Flotation Device – USCG Approved – Multiple Sizes and Colors
This device is good for calm, inland waters.Seachoice

Some PFDs are perfectly suited for hanging around on a dock or deck. But if you plan on skiing, tubing, or paddling, you’ll want a life vest made for high-energy sports. These utilize dense foam panels to cut down on bulk, and higher-quality materials that won’t chafe your skin. PFDs made specifically for paddlers have higher backs to allow for more comfortable seating and yoke-style harnesses that won’t ride up under your arms as you paddle.